RAF Lakenheath Base Tour : 9th November 2018
Report by Doug MacDonald
Photos by Doug MacDonald (Unless stated)
It had taken a long time to organise, having initially contacted the base at the end of 2017. Having filled up the places for the tour, submitted those attending, details to the base and booked the coach (courtesy of Mil-ken Travel Ltd), the only thing to do was wait for the day & time to arrive.
One of the members from S.M.A.S. suggested that as it was Remembrance Weekend in the UK we should organise a collection to purchase a wreath and see if it would be at all possible to lay it in the base Memorial Park. Mark Bentley, whose suggestion it was, was given the role of dealing with that aspect of the tour.
The day arrived as did I at the end of Runway 24 when it was still dark, knowing that there were six F-15C Eagles from 194th Fighter Squadron due to depart later in the morning. It was going to be busy with other enthusiasts trying to get photos of them leaving, especially 84-0004 that was painted in a very colourful livery.
It was around 8.21am, when the first departure (a 492nd FS F-15E Strike Eagle, 91-0332) showed us the power of its two afterburners as it tore down Runway 24. Followed shortly behind by 91-321 and 98-0134 also of the 492nd Fighter Squadron “The Mad Hatters”. Unfortunately, I had left my radio at home so callsigns were not obtained.
At 8.25am another three ship of F-15E Strike Eagles from 492nd FS rolled towards the runway, consisting of 91-0306, 97-0220 & 91-0316. They departed at 0926 but with their callsign known.
Persons for the tour started to arrive slowly but surely, all hoping to see the Californian ANG F-15’s depart, but it was 91-0316 returning and landing at 9.53am that started their camera’s clicking. Twenty minutes later, three of the remaining five 492nd FS came back and some going into the circuit kept us occupied for a while.
Then it was the turn for the 494th Fighter Squadron, “The Black Panthers” to entertain us with their departure skills. 96-0201, 91-0310 departed at 10.22am. Then the last two 492nd FS F-15’s came in from “Charlie” and broke right above our heads, 98-0134 giving a wisp of vapour off both wings as it pulled left, away from 91-0321. As like their predecessors, the two jets went into circuits for a short time.
Two more 494th FS F-15E’s were still on “Last Chance”, but as it was drawing near to the time that our coach would be arriving, I had to move from the “forestry entrance” to our meeting place at the “viewing area” and missed them departing.
The Tour Itself
No sign of the ANG F-15’s as we all boarded the coach and drove off to Gate 8 at the base, where we were booked in, our identity checked against the documents we had all with us. Would you believe it ! As we went through the booking in procedure, so the ANG’s taxied passed us to depart. There was far to much in the way to get clear shots of the jets (Buildings, Hardened Air Shelters, trees and fences), but it was nice to see them. They departed finally between 1148 and 1150, with 84-0004 going first as “CUBE 01”, followed by 82-0028 “CUBE 02”, 86-0167 “CUBE 03”, 84-0009 “CUBE 04”, 80-0010 “CUBE 05” and finally 86-0144 “CUBE 06”.
Image by Daren Eaton
Once on the base we headed straight for the Control Tower, R.A.P.C.O.N. (Radar Approach Control System or ATC as we call it in the UK) and the weather department. Split into three group, we visited each area in turn.
The group I was in went into the Weather Centre first of all and was met by a young airman, who was on his first porting since joining the United States Air Force. It was explained to us that as the U.K. is an island, predicting the weather is challenging because of the Atlantic Ocean and the various weather fronts caused not only by the vast ocean, but also by neighbouring Europe. The weather is determined obviously to assist the 48th Fighter Wing F-15 pilots as not all are classified to fly in certain weather and visibility. They work closely with RAF Mildenhall but apart from looking at the RAF weather reports, they don’t actually contact nearby RAF Marham or Wattisham to converse and amalgamate each other’s findings.
Next was RAPCON, which was a very dark room with just light coming from the various radar screens, phone consoles and other equipment that can be found in the room. The Lakenheath / Mildenhall airspace is controlled by this room alone and can usually be quite busy not only with military aircraft in the area, but also general aviation transiting through. It is very rare to get airline traffic as they generally are kept out of the area due to the quick manoeuvrability of the military jets, out or into both bases.
It was interesting to see the radar returns on the screen we were looking at as even though there was not a lot of military traffic, being it a Friday, there was still some “hits” within the MATZ (Military Aerodrome Traffic Zone), but all G.A. (General Aviation).
The airman that was telling us about RAPCON explained that the MATZ for the two bases extended north up to just short of RAF Marham, to the East was the eastern border of STANTA Range, the the south was just north of Bury St Edmunds and the west, was the western edge of the town, Soham. Any aircraft traffic in that area would come under RAPCON.
One thing that was said, “The pilots just get the aircraft into the sky and down again. We tell them how to fly it by turns, ascent or descent” which if you think about it is so very true. The Military aircraft cannot deviate from their course without instructions from RAPCON, once they are in the sky.
Then it was to the Control Tower. Eight floors up from the ground, sits the “glass office” where the controllers work. All round windows gives them a great view of the base, obviously, but also of the surrounding area. RAF Mildenhall’s building were easily visible as was “QID 201” a based Boeing KC-135R, 62-3551 inbound to Runway 11.
As it was a Friday afternoon, the work force had depleted as there was to be no more flying from the base that day & all jets had returned. However, a brief explanation of what the staff in the control tower do, their roles and responsibilities briefly talked about, but unfortunately we were short on time, being the last group of the three to visit and had to leave. However a few photos were taken from the outside balcony.
Photo by Andy Akers
Weapons Section was the next location to be visited. Arrays of different weapons were laid out on a table and we were allowed to pick them up, have a closer look at them etc. All were on “active” service throughout the base, some soon to be retired or upgraded. Certain individuals enjoyed picking them up or even taking one particular machine gun to pieces, having learnt how to do so in his military service.
The Fire Department was our next port of call where after we had been introduced to the two firefighters that would be looking after us, we made our way to where the vehicles were kept and maintained. All the vehicles looked spotless as we were shown the equipment onboard “Crash 10” and explained what each individual item was for. It was then that a Tech Sergeant appeared and got the two firefighters to show us a drill where they had to get all their firefighting clothing on within 60 seconds, the loser would by doughnuts for the shift. Both completed in less than sixty seconds, albeit one guy had his breathing apparatus on, the other did not. The Tech Sergeant reneged and stated that would by the doughnuts. The tour continued outside where there was a huge machine (Crash 8) that had a huge spike hanging down the front of the vehicle. Crash 8 was primarily a huge water and foam tank that was used to support the other vehicles with water at emergencies if it was not required itself. The huge spike at the front was on an extendable arm, which could be put out to its full range and used to puncture the skin of aircraft and allow water or foam to be sprayed inside the fuselage of an aircraft without deploying firefighters inside. It was not used on fighter aircraft, just large aircraft.
Photo by David Crawford
Photo by Andy Akers
Photo by Andy Akers
Photo by James Shilling
The Memorial Park & Laying Of A Wreath
The group then left the fire department, but four of us were kept back as we were to be given a ride in “Crash 13” to the base Memorial Park. This was a first for the base to arrange and I felt privileged to take part in this debut activity for visitors, and to sit in the front passenger seat, although, immediately we got told to “get in”, I did head for what I thought was the passenger seat, only to find a steering wheel. They drive on the right side of the road !!. I also discovered that the two-tones for the vehicle can be operated by a small button on the floor of the passenger’s seat. This I trod on by mistake and set everything going much to the entertainment of my three colleagues, sitting in the back.
Anyway, after my small two errors, we drove out from the Fire Department for the Memorial Park.
As we arrived at The Memorial Park, not only was our group waiting for our arrival, but there were also many members of the United States Air Force, both military and civilian personnel. Prior to attending the tour, we had collected extra money from those persons on the trip to put towards a wreath as we would be visiting on Remembrance Weekend and one of our members, Mark Bentley, thought it would be a good idea to see if we could lay a wreath. We managed to raise sufficient funds for three wreaths.
At 2.30 pm, an air force Padre read out a reading and then it was my turn to place two of the wreaths that were attached to the triangular frame, next to a small slate memorial, “Lest they be forgotten”. Then, Mark, who was smartly dressed and wearing his old military beret, marched up to the same memorial, placed the wreath on the frame, saluted and came and stood next to me. Very impressive Mark !
There was then a number of group photographs taken of Mark and I with other persons from the United States Air Force, including personnel from the Dog Section and Squadron Leader Neild who is the R.A.F. representative on base (as it is an RAF base). Whilst these photos were being taken, the rest of the group were allowed to wander around the park, talk to those present and take photographs, as we were wherever we had been during the tour. Mark and I did likewise after the group photographs.
Photo by Steve Lynes
I managed to speak to two of the dog handlers that were present and learnt that they do not keep their assigned dogs if they move on to another base. The dog stays at RAF Lakenheath for all its military service and when it retires, it is offered to be housed with its ex-owners because they know and understand its temperament. The dogs used are not pets, but working dogs and are trained in such a fashion that to be retired to a normal hose would not be ideal for the animal or its new owners. Both handlers that I spoke to had Belgian Malinois which is a medium to large breed, sometimes called a “Belgian Shepherd Dog”.
A pilot from the 492nd Fighter Squadron was also on hand to sell patches.
However, on a personal note, there was not enough time left for me to speak to all I wanted to speak to, see what I wanted to see and take photos before it was time for us all to get back on our coach as the tour was to end.
As we drove back to the main gate we were shown other items of interest, such as the military hospital on the base which has earnt itself many awards over a period of five years or more. We were also shown a small version of The Statue of Liberty indicating that the 48th Fighter Wing is also known as “The Liberty Wing”.
We reached the main gate where we said “Goodbye” to our escort for the day, A1C Williams-Jones, who was kind enough to state that we had been “The best group she had had this year”. We also had a brief look as we drove passed the F-100 situated as a Gate Guard.
Overall Thoughts Of The Day.
All in all, everybody enjoyed the four-hour base tour of RAF Lakenheath, seeing different departments that worked there. “It was great to see and learn about the different goings-on inside the fence”, was said by one person.
If there was one thing that came out was that the group were unable to get to speak to any pilot and/or visit an F-15 but we all fully appreciate that due to operational circumstances, it is not always possible.
Aircraft noted during the tour
1148 Dep 84-0004 F-15C 194th FS CUBE 01
1148 Dep 82-0028 F-15C 194th FS CUBE 02
1149 Dep 86-0167 F-15C 194th FS CUBE 03
1149 Dep 84-0009 F-15C 194th FS CUBE 04
1150 Dep 80-0010 F-15C 194th FS CUBE 05
1150 Dep 86-0144 F-15C 194th FS CUBE 06
And noted on the flightline
00-3001 F-15E 494th FS
00-3003 F-15E 494th FS
01-2000 F-15E 494th FS
01-2003 F-15E 494th FS
91-0301 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0306 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0310 F-15E 494th FS
91-0314 F-15E 494th FS
91-0315 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0316 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0318 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0320 F-15E 494th FS
91-0321 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0324 F-15E 494th FS
91-0331 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0332 F-15E 492nd FS
91-0335 F-15E 494th FS
91-0602 F-15E 494th FS
91-0604 F-15E 494th FS
96-0201 F-15E 494th FS
96-0202 F-15E 492nd FS
96-0204 F-15E 494th FS
97-0218 F-15E 492nd FS
97-0220 F-15E 492nd FS
98-0131 F-15E 492nd FS
98-0134 F-15E 492nd FS
68-0011 F-111E Aardvark wears 70-0389
74-0131 F-15A Eagle wears 86-0169 & 86-0180
BAPC-269 Spitfire (Replica) wears BM361
54-2269 F-100D Super Sabre wears 63319
Our grateful thanks to our host, The 48th Fighter Wing, RAF Lakenheath.UK and a special mention to Mark Bentley, for not only coming up with the idea for the wreath but also executing the delivery with such professionalism and the way he should all of us how we should remember all who have fallen for us to have our freedom.
… and a few more images from the day ….